| Venezuela is home to an enormous
variety of animals and plants, and is one of the most
biodiverse regions in the world. The evolution of the
country's flora and fauna was the result of two principal
factors: the diversity of the landscape, which facilitated
the development of numerous, distinct habitats, and the
natural history of the continent. After being geographically
isolated for 70 million years, South America became linked
to Central America when a landbridge (now Panama) emerged
from the sea some 3.5 million years ago. Gradually, new
species spread from Asia down North and Central America
and filtered into South America. Although this movement
of wildlife and plants enhanced the biodiversity of the
continent, it brought renewed competition and some species
became extinct. Moreover, in later years, South America
did not encounter the ice ages that engulfed North America
and parts of Europe and Asia. As a result, the species
that had become established in the continent survived
an era that saw the loss of many from northern parts of
there are about 250 species of mammal in Venezuela,
including the jaguar, puma, capybara (chiguire), manatee,
howler monkey, sloth and two species of fresh water
dolphin. The country is also home to the giant otter
or 'water-wolf', which is the rarest otter in the world.
The bird population consists of over 1,200 species,
among which are the condor, hoatzin (guacharaca), flamingo,
pelican, several species of parrot, macaw (guacamayo)
and toucan and a rare, nocturnal species, the oilbird
(guacharo). Venezuela's reptiles include five species
of cayman, the common iguana, rattlesnake, boa and the
largest snake in the world: the anaconda.
The plant life of Venezuela is as diverse as its wildlife,
ranging from the cacti of the desert to the epiphytes
of the rainforest. Extraordinary species of flower grow
on the isolated, flat-topped mountains of the Gran Sabana
(tepui), some of which are endemic to a single plateau.
Several thousand species of orchid bloom throughout
the year, and there is a huge variety of fruiting trees.
Flora of cultural significance includes the moriche
palm, which grows in the swamps of the Orinoco delta.
Known as the 'tree of life', the moriche plays an essential
role in the existence of the Warao Indians, providing
food and materials for their daily life.